LAUDF 15: Designing for net zero – event report

Explore all the learning from our first online Local Authority Urban Design Forum event on 1 March 2022.

An architectural sketch of a high street and housing in a town centre with trees, grass and water running alongside it.

Architecture and Design Scotland (A&DS) hosted the 15th Local Authority Urban Design Forum (LAUDF) on 1 March 2022. More than 100 professionals joined the event. It was the first LAUDF we held online.

The event’s theme was ‘designing for net zero’ and had three parts. Click on the links below to jump to summaries of each talk and highlights from the Q&As:

A colourful aerial sketch of high risers, green spaces, rivers and people in a city centre designed to adapt to a climate emergency.
Image credit: Richard Carman

Session 1: net zero towns and cities

Fresh from the findings of the Just Transition Commission and Scotland’s ambitious net zero targets, how do we meet the challenges of preparing our towns and cities for a net zero future? Click the topics below to jump to a summary of each speaker’s talk or go straight to the Q&A highlights.

Topics and speakers:

Planning and delivering COP26

Duncan Booker of Glasgow City Council spoke about planning and delivering COP26.

The UK government chose Glasgow to host COP26. It was a big event in terms of management and logistics, but also one that aligned well with Glasgow and Scotland’s ambitions.

While COP26 may not have told us anything new, hosting it provided extra momentum for the projects Glasgow City Council plans to do.

It also provided the opportunity to talk about how we use a green recovery to respond to both the climate crisis and the pandemic.

Places like Glasgow, scarred by industrial decline, need to show how our cities and towns can meet net zero through a just transition.

As well as Glasgow’s logistical and policy ambitions for the summit, it was important to create a space for nations to tackle critical issues like:

  • keeping 1.5 degrees alive
  • climate justice
  • resilient and adapted places and planet

Glasgow City Council hoped the summit would create a legacy for Glasgow, Scotland, and the UK. There was a deliberate focus and aspiration that Glaswegians would be part of the event and its legacy.

Glasgow wanted to share these messages with the world:

  • Cities and local governments are essential for delivering national goals
  • Sustainability and social justice must go together to support transformation
  • Finance needs to match ambition

At the heart of COP26’s legacy is an inclusive conversation with communities about climate and their lived experience in Scotland’s places, cities, and towns.

This is the only way that we will move towards a climate-resilient future with a just transition at its core.

Climate Action Towns

Laura Hainey of Architecture and Design Scotland spoke about the Climate Action Towns project.

Our Climate Action Towns project supports place-based climate action in small Scottish towns.

It looks at the important question of climate change and Scotland’s 156 towns, home to half the country’s population.

Seven towns were identified in a data-driven approach:

  • Annan
  • Alness and Invergordon
  • Blackburn
  • Campbeltown
  • Holytown
  • Stevenson

The project, which evolved from Carbon Conscious Places, is treating each town differently to reflect their individual characters. There is a place-based approach throughout.

Partnerships with schools, local authorities, businesses, and other organisations have been set up. If we see these as the dots, then this project goes some way to join these dots. For instance, businesses further ahead on the net zero journey can share their knowledge.

While partnerships were different in each town, it is the fact they are working together that unites them.

This project goes beyond the seven towns. Its learning will be used to inform future work and engagement in other towns throughout the country.

Q&A highlights: session 1

Duncan asked Laura to reflect on a few topics before opening up the Q&A to the floor. Here are some the highlights.

Climate and the use of the Place Standard

Duncan asked Laura to reflect more on the use of the Place Standard, to provide people with an idea of how they could frame a discussion and instil a sense of ownership.

The Climate Action Towns team had been trialling the Place Standard’s ‘climate lens’, developed by SNIFFER.

In addition to the Place Standard’s prompts, the climate lens asks questions about mitigation and adaptation.

The Climate Action Towns team has been able to use this approach and these tools in both online and in person workshops to good effect.

Partnerships and stakeholder relationships

Duncan asked Laura to reflect on the breadth of the partnerships and how significant these will need to be if we are going to achieve the things we want to do.

The Climate Action Towns team has found that stakeholders have been varied and specific to each place.

The team carried out a stakeholder mapping exercise in each town, talking to people and reviewing the networks to see what will work best in each place.

Most often, the partners are all working for ‘that place’ and represent those who are already active in an area.

Mapping and analysing stakeholder engagement will be an important learning point for the Climate Action Towns project.

Climate change at a community level: global vs local issues

Duncan asked Laura to reflect on the understanding and different perspectives on climate change that she has encountered at a community level.

The Climate Action Towns team is still at the early stages of the project and conversations with the communities. But it has identified a few issues relating to climate change.

For example, a youth group member described how his grandmother’s outhouse flooded but did not relate it initially to climate change.

It is most important to have these conversations in each community so that we can understand the issues and changes specific to each place.

What kind of things were businesses working on and able to collaborate on?

Duncan Booker:

The private sector is important for ensuring that partnerships are robust and successful in delivering the kind of change we want to see.

When planning and delivering COP26, business was front and centre. It was seen as part of the solution to problems.

Businesses becoming greener could involve resource efficiency and expand to changes to goods and services. Green business practices should be the source of sustainable profits.

Glasgow is also working with businesses on green skills planning for upskilling and training workers. The further education (FE) sector has proved central to the success of this initiative.

Laura Hainey:

A recent mapping workshop in one community highlighted that several local businesses were much further on the net zero journey than they had realised.

The local businesses were then able to link up with the local schools and further education institutions to gain more knowledge.

This is an example of the very conversations we can build on to start to develop a net zero place.

Kilchurn Castle flanked by two mountains with its reflection in the still lake.
Kilchurn Castle, Lochawe. Image credit: Connor Mollison (

Session 2: retrofit and heritage

The UK has the oldest housing and building stock in Europe. How do we meet the challenges of preparing these buildings for our net zero targets? Click the topics below to jump to a summary of each speaker’s talk or go straight to the Q&A highlights.

Topics and speakers:

Conservation retrofit: the benefits of a lighter-touch approach

Roger Curtis of Historic Environment Scotland spoke about retrofit in historic buildings.

The discussion on energy in historic and traditional buildings is maturing. It now considers embodied carbon and has a greater focus on circular economy.

Traditional and historic buildings make up 20% of Scotland’s housing, but in some areas, the figure is closer to 90%.

Our places include a mix of retail, housing, and small businesses. The pandemic has shown the benefits of this mix. It also contributes to a 15-minute neighbourhood.

We still have a long way to go in terms of materials and services. Historic Environment Scotland has worked with the Energy Savings Trust on an Energy Performance Certificate Plus (its working title). This is a more detailed assessment, and the recommendations are more tailored to the specifics of the building.

There is no listed building in Scotland where things cannot be done. Historic Environment Scotland’s retrofit guide is listed-building compliant.

Less invasive retrofit means less disruption and lower cost, and it is more likely to be done.

Upgrading means fewer removals, fewer new buildings materials, less methane, and less landfill.

New materials have extremely high embodied carbon so by choosing your upgrade materials carefully you can sequester carbon.

Consultation on a Scottish retrofit agency is ongoing. Upgrading our historical buildings needs skilled people.

Holyrood Park Lodge

Holyrood Park Lodge is a listed building. A renovation project improved its energy performance and it jumped from band F to C. The work included upgrading glazing and insulating the floor and the loft.

The hearth was kept, adding to ventilation. Ventilation and air quality will be particularly important as temperatures rise.

Climate vulnerability and adaptation for world heritage sites

Jenny Bruce is Coordinator of Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site. She spoke climate change and world heritage sites.

Climate change poses a threat to our world heritage sites that needs to be understood and managed at a local level.

There are two value-based risk assessment methodologies:

  • Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA). It was developed by Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH) and relies on extensive community engagement.
  • Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI). It was developed by James Cook at University Australia and was applied for the first time in an urban world heritage site.

The CVI process has helped to identify priorities for adaptation and gaps in knowledge about how to deal with surface water and drainage.

The CCRA involved several stakeholders and community groups in a series of online engagements.

The aim was to help understand:

  • what people valued in the world heritage site or city centre
  • what climate impacts they were experiencing
  • the risks for the world heritage site
  • how to adapt to these impacts without losing the character of the world heritage site

This learning is already helping to inform adaptation options.

The results from the two projects are helping to:

  • understand the threat of the climate emergency to outstanding universal value
  • understand significant local values from an evidence base
  • provide baseline support to forthcoming actions in the world heritage site management plan
  • inform council strategies
  • identify gaps in research, policy, and guidance

Net Zero Public Buildings Standard

Jamie Goth at Scottish Futures Trust spoke about the Net Zero Public Buildings Standard.

Scottish Government has a new standard for exemplary new build projects and focuses on place, carbon, and environment: the Net Zero Public Sector Buildings Standard.

It establishes a robust and systemised approach for public bodies to articulate ambitious but achievable targets.

These targets are for emissions, comfort and environmental outcomes of their new buildings and major refurbishment projects. They are there to ensure they achieve their net zero deadline.

The standard, adopted by the Scottish Government in 2020, seeks to minimise emissions. It does this by considering the reuse of an existing asset as opposed to creating a new asset.

At the heart of the standard is the Place Principle. The greatest opportunity for minimising carbon emissions and achieving the right outcomes is in getting the right buildings in the right place.

This is reinforced by the Scottish Government’s Infrastructure Investment Plan, which prioritises re-using a building before developing a new one.

Before a project can adopt the standard, there needs to be a strong business case that identifies the need for a new build.

The preference is to reuse existing buildings, to share those buildings with other public sector organisations, and to start working together before constructing.

The standard was developed by the net zero team at the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT). If you are interested in adopting the standard, please contact SFT in the first instance via email:

Q&A highlights: session 2

What is the timescale for the Net Zero Public Sector Building Standard?

Jamie Goth: Documentation is in spring 2022, peer review is in the summer, and we plan to have it ready in autumn 2022.

Should you have to prove you need a new building?

Jamie Goth: The Learning Estate Investment programme requires a detailed business case for money to be made available for a new building.

Can you take a whole place approach to a world heritage site?

Jenny Bruce:

A world heritage place site is greater than the sum of its parts. While taking a whole place approach we still need to break it down to understand the different elements.

In the climate vulnerability workshops, we perhaps focussed too much on an individual building. We want to understand the impacts of climate change on the whole site.

How do we get the right building in the right place?

Jamie Goth: Look at the travel. Is the building accessible to the people who need it? The Place Principle can bring services together.

The Edinburgh skyline from Calton Hill at sunset on a clear day.
Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Image credit: Connor Mollison (

Session 3: a discussion on policy and approaches

Scottish Government’s Planning and Architecture Division provide an update on the urban design context and climate change implications in the Fourth National Planning Framework. Click the topics below to jump to a summary of each speaker’s talk or go straight to the Q&A highlights.

Topics and speakers


NPF4 update

Ian Gilzean, Chief Architect at Scottish Government, gave an update on NPF4. 

NPF4, currently out for consultation, is aligned with Scotland’s route map for meeting net zero. 

It focuses on net zero places, how we recover from the pandemic, involve communities, and secure a just transition to net zero. 

It sets out revised national planning policies and is part of the statutory development plan. It carries greater weight in decision-making, with an important role in informing local development plans. 

We are also focusing on local living in the pandemic recovery. 20-minute neighbourhoods are embedded in the NPF4. 

Architecture and Design Scotland’s carbon conscious places work underpins some of the thinking. 

National spatial strategy 

The spatial strategy is underpinned by four spatial principles to ensure the best future developments are sustainable: 

  • Sustainable place 
  • Liveable places 
  • Productive places 
  • Distinctive place


Six key principles and action areas:

  • Compact growth
  • Local living
  • Balanced development
  • Conserving and recycling assets
  • Urban and rural synergy
  • Just transition

National planning policies in practice

An overview summary in more depth under four key themes. Some are new policies arising from new priorities such as the climate and nature emergency.

  • Sustainable places
  • Liveable places
  • Productive places
  • Distinctive places

The slide includes six qualities of good places:

  • Design for life-long health and well being
  • Safe and pleasant
  • Wee connected and easy to move around
  • Distinctive
  • Sustainable
  • Adaptable

National planning policy – key changes

The slide summarises key policy changes under less and more headings. All are based around place and people-centric places and a liveable approach. Urban design and placemaking is needed to bring all these things together.

  • high-emission developments
  • development in climate-vulnerable areas
  • impact on ecosystems
  • out of town retail
  • greenfield development
  • housing development outwith planned areas
  • car dependant development
  • peat and fossil fuel extraction
  • disused land and buildings
  • localism and mixed-use
  • town centre development
  • quality and diverse homes
  • blue-green infrastructure, nature restoration, play
  • flexibility for work and business
  • renewable electricity and heat
  • circular economy facilities
  • public transport and active travel connectivity
  • reuse of vacant and derelict land
  • rural development

National planning policies close up 

Simon Bonsall, Senior Planner at Scottish Government, went into more detail that is going to influence design response.  

He lists them as: 

  • universal policies 

  • heating and cooling 

  • blue infrastructure, play and sport 

  • green energy 

  • coast 

  • sustainable flood risks and water management 

  • vacant and derelict land 

  • soils 

  • zero waste 

Net zero is a balancing act. It is important to understand that the NPF4 vision, including sustainable development and net zero, runs through the entire policy handbook. 

Universal Policy 2 is about the climate emergency: design approaches and decision making, information about life cycle emissions, and aims to minimise those with more significant proposals being accompanied by whole life emissions assessment. 

Universal Policy 3 is about the nature crisis: enhancement of biodiversity, supporting habitats and networks, and promoting green infrastructure. This theme will come through in Scottish Government policies. 

An infrastructure-first approach makes better use of existing assets: understanding what we have already and why it is being used. It is a move away from seeing new assets as the default position.

Thinking about infrastructure as one system 

Daisy Narayanan is Head of Placemaking and Mobility at the City of Edinburgh Council. She spoke about a new place-based approach to ensure that across Edinburgh mobility connections, digital connections, public space, green areas, and heritage sites are talked about as one system. 

Putting people’s needs at the centre of decision-making 

Any discussion needs to start with communities and their aspirations. It should be all about citizen participation, inclusion and making sure people are heard. 

We need to be able to react and act quickly to make sure people are empowered and actively involved. 

People have different needs, starting points and desires. There needs to be an understanding of what is important for different communities. 

Our response to the climate emergency should put people’s needs at the centre of decision-making. 

Daisy cited Architecture and Design Scotland’s eight principles of a carbon-conscious place. These guide and inspire people to reduce repurpose and absorb carbon. 

Inequalities: those least able to afford to pay the most 

In deprived areas, we see the most impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, and it is not just the climate costs. Transport costs fall disproportionality on poorer households in deprived areas. 

This must be the decade of action 

The positive side is that in Scotland, work is underway towards a whole new approach for designing our places. New collaborations are in place to achieve collective outcomes. 

The City of Edinburgh Council has a climate strategy. For net zero there are three pilot projects: a tenement, a street, and a neighbourhood. 

The flagship is George Street, in the heart of the New Town, which is to become a net zero street. 

The council is working hard to put people and movement in place at the heart of what it wants to achieve. 

Scotland Climate Assembly 

More than 100 citizens, broadly representative of the country, came together in Scotland's climate assembly. 

They answered the question: how should Scotland change to tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way? This included the views and experience of children. 

The results were ambitious, radical, and challenging to government to make the suggested changes happen. 

Call to action 

Our places, economy, transport, education, equality, and social justice are all interconnected. 

We need a collective, proactive approach to improve them and ensure people and place are at the heart of placemaking. 

Together we can make the magic happen to reach this new world we want to see. 

Q&A highlights: session 3

Draft NPF4 refers to a whole life assessment of greenhouse gases. Who is responsible for preparing the whole life assessments and who is going to appraise them?

Simon Bonsall:

At the moment we cannot say but we are recognising that we must do more to get the right information and make informed decisions.

Once NPF4 is adopted, we will look at the range of guidance and information to support getting the right information into the system.

Trying to get mainstream residential spaces within densely developed areas such as city centres is difficult. Any insights into how this can be delivered to allow more use of vacant property?

Ian Gilzean:

Town centre living is one of the policies in the NPF. We are pushing this as a way of providing more homes, services and amenities and to help with the pandemic recovery.

It is about changing the footfall as well as the footprint. There is the town centre action plan and big opportunities for Scotland’s 156 smaller towns.

These include hybrid working, market towns, social hubs for exchanging ideas, and culture at street level.

Danny McKendry, Principal Landscape Architect, A&DS:

A&DS’s Design for a Changing Climate report draws attention to the idea of the network of connected places.

These are places that do different things but are connected to and help each other. This also works for neighbourhoods in cities as well.

Credits and thanks

The agenda was developed in collaboration with Emma Morton at Glasgow City Council and Laura Robertson at Aberdeen City Council, with input from A&DS. We would like to thank all the delegates and speakers for their contributions.

To get alerts about upcoming events, make sure you sign up to the A&DS mailing list. We look forward to seeing you at the next event!

Header image credit: Richard Carman

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